Hamilton may have won again, but it was Raikkonen and Rosberg who stood out in Bahrain

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It is hard to understand why anyone would bet against Lewis Hamilton winning a third Formula 1 world championship in 2015.

That may be a bold statement given that we are just four races in to the new season, but frankly, there appears to be little that can stop the Briton this year. He has three wins already under his belt and is in the form of his life. Right now, he’s on another planet to the rest of the grid.

It is sensational to witness: man and machine working in perfect harmony. We are looking at a domination of the sport comparable to that of Michael Schumacher with Ferrari or Sebastian Vettel with Red Bull – one driver and one team standing out from the rest.

It may not seem like a very impressive feat, given that in all three cases the drivers have been in the one outstanding car of that period. However, the way in which they all outfoxed and defeated their teammates is fascinating.

Rubens Barrichello was always the number two at Ferrari, of course. However, he never stood out to make it otherwise. Even if he were to retain the wins that he was forced to give up by Ferrari to help Schumacher, the German was still on another level.

Mark Webber’s defeat to Vettel at Red Bull was more complex, though. Had the Australian won the 2010 world title, the next three years may have been very different. Instead, Sebastian went on a streak that made clear who the number one driver was at Milton Keynes. Webber stood no chance of winning the title in 2011, even when in the same dominant car. He eventually ailed to third in the championship.

Rosberg is going down a similar path to Webber – coming close to winning the title, standing no chance the following year – because Hamilton has out-thought him and outplayed him. Right now, the German driver is doing all he can to score pole positions and race wins, but continues to fall short. He hasn’t come close to beating Lewis this year, in truth.

But Bahrain proved that there is still some fight in Rosberg, even if he lost out to Kimi Raikkonen at the end of the race and finished in third place. He had the spark that has been lacking ever since last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix, and showed it simply by making a few overtakes during the race.

Because that has been Nico’s problem. He hasn’t made any big moves, only appearing to go backwards during races (typically behind his teammate). When he became boxed in behind Vettel at the start in Bahrain and lost a position to Raikkonen, it seemed to be the same old story. Rosberg looked resigned to fourth place.

He fought back though. The German told NBCSN earlier in the week that he had been studying the footage of his battle with Hamilton in the 2014 race in the event of a repeat this year. Although he did not need the knowledge to fight the Briton, Rosberg did pull some very good moves on both Vettel and Raikkonen throughout the race, running them deep into the first corner to deny them the cut back and a run on the straight heading up to turn four. Clearly, his revision paid off.

In all, Rosberg made three passes on Vettel – one at the start, one after his first stop and another after his second stop – and one on Raikkonen on lap four. Four overtakes may not seem like much, but the manner in which he did it proved the fight he has. He wasn’t willing to sit behind them for too long and allow Hamilton to scamper away. It’s a big positive that Rosberg can take from the weekend.

It didn’t end happily, though, as Raikkonen was able to pass with ease on the penultimate lap of the race and take second place at the flag. Rosberg was defenceless thanks to a brake issue, but this should not detract from the Finn’s achievement. The result marked his first podium finish since the 2013 Korean Grand Prix, and proved that his 2014 form was a blip, not the start of a steady decline.

Raikkonen’s motivation is regularly questioned due to his monosyllabic and reclusive nature. His return to Ferrari last year was a disappointment, as he finished 12th in the drivers’ championship, leading many to deem that he wasn’t the same man that had won the team its last title back in 2007. Quite clearly though, with the right car underneath him – just as we have seen with Vettel this year – he still has that drive.

Interestingly, it was Vettel who was used by Ferrari to bluff Mercedes into pitting Rosberg early. The plan had been to put the German on the same strategy as Raikkonen – option-prime-option – had been stayed in front of Rosberg. The team moved him onto ‘plan B’ – option-option-prime – to force Mercedes to pit both of its drivers early and avoid losing out on the undercut.

All the while, Raikkonen was able to go about his business and capitalize when on options in the final stint. For a team that has been blunder-prone in the past few seasons, Ferrari has turned a corner strategically this year.

Hamilton may have been the star under the lights in Bahrain, but it was Rosberg and Raikkonen who made the big statements on Sunday. The fight between Ferrari and Mercedes is set to define this season, and although the chips are stacked firmly in the latter’s favor, we could be in for some fascinating battles in 2015.

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”